Impressions of a Yong Zhao Masterclass

The Victorian Chapter’s Ken Woodman and Mayfield 2016 participant Bella Bower reflect on Yong Zhao’s exchange Masterclass, and weave some Mayfield #whatifwe provocations into the mix.

“Instead of thinking about improving the past, we need to think about inventing the future” Yong Zhao, Melbourne, 2 June 2016

Masterclass themes

Building on his conference key note theme of allowing students to determine their learning, Yong Zhao explored the what, how, and where of learning. To Yong “it is our diversity that is the key to our future…personalisation and choice becomes the most important thing”.  #whatifwe personalised more than just curriculum offerings?   #whatifwe personalised how students learn?

The “what” of learning was translated into Student Autonomy. To Yong, students required total autonomy over their learning with the categories of student voice, choice and support being key elements in establishing autonomy. He noted that student voice is imperative to maintain ownership of learning. Students would greatly benefit from being involved in the management of their schooling particularly when “governance is a necessary evil”.  #whatifwe had students advising the management?   #whatifwe shifted the power?   This involvement would extend not only to the development of their own learning opportunities, rules and regulations but the selection and evaluation of staff. Yong dwelt on the importance of students having a voice about where they learn and with what tools.

Student choice can be embedded in a broad and flexible curriculum. Not only are the number and variety of programmes significant but the opportunity for a student to construct, evolve, or develop a programme significantly influences the feeling of student choice and engagement. The choice of a student exploring their own programmes increases the opportunity for that student to discover their preferred future career direction.   #whatifwe encouraged students to begin specialising their learning in an interest/s whenever they were ready?  This choice can extend to the level of external standards and measurement. Currently, “we only measure positive short term outcomes”, the development of self-reflection and self-challenge will result in positive long term achievement.  #whatifwe aimed for positive long term achievement?

The personalisation of student support through mentoring provides the final strand of student autonomy. The access to a significant adult, together with the opportunity to select that adult, provides the basis for a strong mentoring relationship. Further the accessibility of those adults provides good support for the student at the point of need. Opportunities for input from adults external to the schooling system also provides for a breadth of learning experiences.  #whatifwe let students choose a personal mentor from the teaching staff to enable stronger relationships?

“How” students learn was explored by Yong through Product Orientation Learning. To him the ability to explore products is an experience with use and meaning. An authentic opportunity to develop a product through a strong process of draft and review creates a positive learning experience. This evolution of product development provides the basis for repeated process learning rather than data retention that can be successfully applied to any task: “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime”.  #whatifwe re-evaluate our understanding of how individuals learn?

Finally, rather than the four walls of a classroom, Yong suggested that the Global Campus is “where” student’s learn. The international market place is where students source information. As such schools that engage with international partners provide opportunities for students to interact with likeminded students and staff to assist in their product development. This requires strong language skills that can be development through those exchanges. Cross cultural understanding is also established though the Global Campus creating an in-depth relationship with international partners.

#whatifwe embraced learning evacuating the school grounds to re-evaluate what the school site contributes to student learning in the ‘global campus’?

Ken’s reflections

Yong Zhao confessed to not knowing of the term “Masterclass” but he still successfully delivered an afternoon of insightful comment and discussion based on his work and writings on education. I believe strongly in student autonomy. I can see the positive opportunities for students when they are free to explore their strengths. The development of strong attributes in a student result in the improvement of other less strong ones in tandem. I agreed with Yong’s view that students require more control over their learning but I would add that control is also needed over their learning environment. Learning environments are controlled by not only the teaching staff but by the timetable and this restricts choice and autonomy. I believe that transferring some control of the learning environment over to the student assists in developing autonomy. 

I see Yong’s vision of learning becoming a collaboration between the student and other players in their learning be that the teacher, facilitator, peers, and significant others both locally and internationally. I reflect that students need to have opportunities beyond time and place to explore their learning which reflected my question to Yong asking if we still need schools or even schooling.

It was greatly inspiring to listen to a leader in the field challenge the systemic educationally norm for the benefit of the individual. This challenge does need to be grasped for the advancement of not only the individual but also the system.

Bella’s reflections

I think the sign of a good ‘masterclass’ is when you get lost in your own thoughts mid discussion. The opportunity to hear Yong Zhao share his views on learning and school reform challenged my thinking on some basic fundamentals; what a school is, what is its moral purpose and whether we need to think a lot bigger - inventing a model complementing learning spreading beyond the school grounds.

I began the masterclass in the mindset that there should be more community activities and facilities being incorporated and planned onto school sites. I left with the opposite view, that the purpose of a school will no longer be to teach curriculum, but be hubs for mentoring, collaborating and wellbeing supporting students learning within the broader community. I don’t know the answers but the questions that it made me ask myself no doubt show it was a great class to finish an incredible conference experience on.


This page last updated: Thursday 14 July 2016